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As the first openly transgender woman to cover the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, Leyna Bloom can safely say her modeling career is, well, in full bloom.
But the seeds for the history-making moment were planted back in 1997, when she first flipped through the Tyra Banks-fronted edition of the bikini bible on her father’s coffee table.
“When they told me I got the cover, I spoke to my dad,” Bloom told Page Six Style.
“I was like, ‘When I was looking at that magazine … I was looking into my future. You were giving me the tools I needed to see myself, to know that I could be there, that I could inspire, that one day I could be a part of this.’”
Fittingly, Banks — the magazine’s first solo black cover star — was there to celebrate when SI Swim’s editor-in-chief, MJ Day, told Bloom she’d appear on one of the famed glossy’s three 2021 covers, making for a “surreal” full-circle moment that left her feeling “shook” in the best way.
“This cover and this moment represent what it looks like in the future,” said Bloom, who has been texting back and forth with the “America’s Next Top Model” host ever since the big reveal.
Bloom’s interest in modeling and movement grew from family roots; she first envisioned a future in fashion while growing up on the South Side of Chicago, where her grandmother taught ballroom and runway classes.
“This is my bloodline, this is my ancestry, this is where I come from,” she recalled thinking of her family matriarch’s work.
Bloom followed her dreams to New York City at the age of 17, hearing a lot of “no” before being discovered in a store in Soho. That chance encounter jump-started her career, which so far has included an appearance in Vogue India, campaigns for H&M and Levi’s and a runway gig alongside Zendaya for Tommy Hilfiger.
“Being a person of trans experience growing up in the world, there was no representation of that [in fashion], so I felt like I could never do this,” she said.
“I think it [was] just putting myself out there, knowing that I was born in a world I didn’t fit in, so I have to create one that I do. I just wanted to be seen in the world and let people know that people like me do exist and we are beautiful.”
During her SI Swim shoot, Bloom had her pick of hundreds of bathing suits, opting for leotard-like one-pieces — like the high-cut white Gil Rodriguez maillot ($260) she models on her cover — over the skimpier string bikinis on offer.
“Trans women feel so comfortable in these one-pieces, so I want to represent them,” she explained, adding that the iconic suits from “Baywatch” also served as inspiration.
“I felt so confident every step of the way, and I don’t feel like that a lot of times when I’m on set shooting half naked or in lingerie or even swimwear.”
The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue has committed to casting a more diverse range of models in recent years. In 2020, Valentina Sampaio was the first trans woman to appear in the issue, and this year, Lewis Freese became the first male Swim Search finalist.
Bloom, meanwhile, is also the glossy’s first trans model of color. But these strides for representation, she stressed, are just the start.
“We just honestly have to keep moving,” she said. “This is not my first time making history, and this is probably not going to be my last. I want to just go out in the world and not limit myself.”
Added Bloom, “The world is changing and people need to see the fact that, wow, this is the beginning of it. This is what it looks like, and it’s so beautiful.”
As for how she’s celebrating being a cover girl? Bloom told us she’s catching a plane to Cabo for her dad’s birthday — and bringing him a copy of her cover, of course.
“It’s only right,” she quipped, adding, “My relationship with SI is going to [last] a really long time. I’m already thinking about what I want to wear for the next one.”
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